By Dr Lydia Ievleva MAPS
Chair, APS College of Sport Psychologists

This is a most welcome and timely issue of InPsych, featuring a sub-discipline of psychology that may more broadly be referred to as performance psychology and is more commonly practised by those trained in sport psychology. At this stage, however, it is only the latter that has the singular recognition of a distinct discipline within the APS, as represented by the APS College of Sport Psychologists (CoSP).

Just as the psychology of sport has become more widely recognised, so has the profession of sport psychology become more widely applied to performance domains far beyond the sporting arena. This has led to a recent proposal to the CoSP membership to consider a name change to the College of Sport and Performance Psychologists. A heated debate for the pros and cons of the proposed change ensued, culminating in no change at this time.

Nevertheless, there are many tasks before us to raise the profile of our discipline in the community we serve, as well as serving the needs of our membership as best we can. This article provides an overview of some of the initiatives and achievements of the College as well as some of the challenges we face.

Initiatives of the College of Sport Psychologists

Representing a profession that crosses both the sports and psychology disciplines, CoSP makes its home at Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) as well as within APS. We therefore alternate the location of our annual conference and AGM. In Adelaide 2007, we featured a larger than ever contingent of sport psychology papers in the main program of the Annual Conference of Science and Medicine in Sports (ACSMS). Our own Dr Sandy Gordon delivered the prestigious Refshauge (keynote) Lecture entitled Applied Positive Psychology for Health Professionals that received high acclaim. Sandy's presentation highlighted the need for exercise physiologists to address a gap in their training and efficacy regarding the psychology of behaviour change with clients. The Australian Association for Exercise and Sport Science (AAESS; the accrediting body for exercise physiologists) has subsequently embraced the inclusion of a training program that addresses this need, which will be run by a CoSP professional.

In the past year, we have also been successful in increasing our presence amongst allied professions (as highlighted above with AAESS). Regardless of being well represented at SMA, what we do still remains a mystery amongst most of the other member disciplines, (e.g., sport physicians, doctors, dietitians, physiotherapists), and even amongst our fellow psychologists for that matter! To this end, CoSP organised an interdisciplinary panel to discuss the psychological issues and implications in sports injury rehabilitation. This panel discussion was well received by all the disciplines, and will result in a policy statement to be published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. This is another great step forward for the greater integration of psychology across disciplines. The next interdisciplinary panel will feature the issue of eating disorders amongst athletes.

We are planning to resurrect our Visiting Scholar Scheme that has proven highly successful in the past, albeit highly demanding to organise. This scheme was designed to provide an opportunity for professional exchange with leaders in our profession from overseas by bringing them to us for a national speaking tour. CoSP is proud to announce that we will be drawing from domestic talent in the next round this year, featuring our own members who have garnered international recognition in their own right.

On the international front, we remain most proud of the success of the World Congress of Sport Psychology held in Sydney in 2005, with the theme of Health and Performance for Life. This marked a crowning achievement on the world stage of sport psychology where we attracted delegates from over 50 countries, as well as keynote speakers from several continents, culminating in the recent publication of Sport and exercise psychology: International perspectives (Morris, Terry & Gordon, 2007).

A CoSP initiative on the table to promote mental and emotional wellbeing is to integrate mental skills training into existing youth sport programs, not for performance enhancement but as an opportunity to develop tools for enhanced mental and emotional wellbeing. Sport provides an excellent vehicle for teaching skills that may readily be transferred to daily life. The beauty of sport is that it also provides immediate feedback reflecting change in one's state of mind. Another initiative currently under discussion is a response to the youth obesity and depression epidemics. Increasing physical activity would serve to prevent and ameliorate these problems, and sport and exercise psychology specialists are ideally suited to developing programs towards preventing and ameliorating these issues. The College will be seeking to put our expertise to work in collaboration with specialists in the health and developmental psychology areas.

Challenges for the College

On the educational front, Australia is recognised as the international leader as far as training and accreditation of sport psychologists. What is truly unfortunate is that the decline in training programs in Australia means the training of such specialists is now under threat and there are very limited options for those seeking to train in the area. There is a distinct possibility that sport psychologists will become an endangered species! Perhaps this is another argument for evolving into a more broadly based performance psychology specialisation.

Ironically, just where an outsider might think the presence and influence of sport psychology may be at its highest - on the Olympic front - is where it is actually receding from its peak during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. One example of what needs to be addressed is the increasing practice of employing the services of former champions as Athlete Liaison Officers to provide psychological support rather than psychology professionals. This gulf between what should be and what actually is taking place in the best interests of our athletes, is one that CoSP will seek to bridge in 2008. We welcome support from our fellow psychologists in warding off this encroachment and ill-advised practice.

Much has been achieved in the advancement of sport and performance psychology in Australia in the last couple of decades, however, the question that challenges us now is whether we've reached our peak. Should we limit ourselves to the sporting playing field or ought we extend our boundaries to embrace the challenges and opportunities before us to contribute more fully to the community?

For more information on the College, go to www.groups.psychology.org.au/csep/ or contact the author on Lydia.Ievleva@uts.edu.au

Reference

Morris, T., Terry, P.C., & Gordon, S. (Eds.) (2007). Sport and exercise psychology: International perspectives. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.